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The Cambrian Explosion

The Cambrian Explosion

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Darwinsim, Design, and Public Education

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DVD Format
Approximately 60 minutes

Lecture by Stephen Meyer and Marcus Ross

In conjunction with the 2004 Intelligent Design Conference, Biola University

The Cambrian explosion is a term often heard in origins debates, but seldom completely understood by the non-specialist. This lecture by Meyer and Ross is one of the best overviews available on the topic and clearly presents in verbal and pictorial summary the latest fossil data (including the recent finds from Chengjiang China). This lecture is based on a paper recently published by Meyer, Ross, Nelson and Chien “The Cambrian Explosion: Biology’s Big Bang” in Darwinism, Design and Public Education(2003, Michigan State University Press). This 80 page article includes 127 references and the book includes two additional appendices with 63 references documenting the current state of knowledge on the Cambrian explosion data. You can save 20% when you order the Cambrian Explosion Study Kit which includes the video lecture and book.

The term Cambrian explosion describes the geologically sudden appearance of animals in the fossil record during the Cambrian period of geologic time. During this event, at least nineteen, and perhaps as many as thirty-five (of forty total) phyla made their first appearance on earth. Phyla constitute the highest biological categories in the animal kingdom, with each phylum exhibiting a unique architecture, blueprint, or structural body plan. The word explosion is used to communicate that fact that these life forms appear in an exceedingly narrow window of geologic time (no more than 5 million years). If the standard earth’s history is represented as a 100 yard football field, the Cambrian explosion would represent a four inch section of that field.

For a majority of earth’s life forms to appear so abruptly is completely contrary to the predictions of Neo-Darwinian and Punctuated Equilibrium evolutionary theory, including:

  • the gradual emergence of biological complexity and the existence of numerous transitional forms leading to new phylum-level body plans;
  • small-scale morphological diversity preceding the emergence of large-scale morphological disparity; and
  • a steady increase in the morphological distance between organic forms over time and, consequently, an overall steady increase in the number of phyla over time (taking into account factors such as extinction).

After reviewing how the evidence is completely contrary to evolutionary predictions, Meyer and Ross address three common objections: 1) the artifact hypothesis: Is the Cambrian explosion real?; 2) The Vendian Radiation (a late pre-Cambrian multicellular organism); and 3) the deep divergence hypothesis.

Finally Meyer and Ross argue why design is a better scientific explanation for the Cambrian explosion. They argue that this is not an argument from ignorance, but rather the best explanation of the evidence from our knowledge base of the world. We find in the fossil record distinctive features or hallmarks of designed systems, including:

  • a quantum or discontinuous increase in specified complexity or information
  • a top-down pattern of scale diversity
  • the persistence of structural (or “morphological”) disparities between separate organizational systems; and
  • the discrete or novel organizational body plans

When we encounter objects that manifest any of these several features and we know how they arose, we invariably find that a purposeful agent or intelligent designer played a causal role in their origin.

Recorded April 24, 2004. Approximately 2 hours including audience Q&A.

About the Speakers
Stephen C. Meyer received his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of Science from the University of Cambridge in 1991. He is currently Director of the Center for Renewal of Science and Culture at Discovery Institute and an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Whitworth College. He is a past recipient of a Rotary International Scholarship, the American Friends of Cambridge scholarship (administered by the Cambridge Commonwealth Trust) and a Templeton Foundation science-religion teaching grant. He has contributed articles to several scholarly books and anthologies including The History of Science and Religion in the Western Tradition: An Encyclopedia, Darwinism: Science or Philosophy, Of Pandas and People: The Central Question of Biological Origins, The Creation Hypothesis: Scientific Evidence for An Intelligent Designer and Facets of Faith and Science: Interpreting God's Action in the World. In addition to technical articles on the philosophy of science, he has published many editorial features in newspapers and magazines such as The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune and National Review.

Marcus Ross is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Geosciences at the University of Rhode Island. He received a B.S. in Earth Science from the Pennsylvania State University in 1998 and a M.S. in Paleontology from the South Daktota School of Mines and Technology in 2002. His current research is focused on tracking the diversity, biostratigraphy, and extinction of mosasaurs, an extinct group of marine reptiles whose remains are found in Late Cretaceous deposits around the world. He and his wife, Corinna, live in Kingston, Rhode Island.

Copyright © 2004 by Biola University


John Angus Campbell, Editor
Stephen C. Meyer, Editor
2003 (Paperback edition), Michigan State University Press, 634 pp.

One of the favorite arguments of ID critics is the false claim that ID advocates don't publish in peer-reviewed publications. Darwinism, Design and Public Education, is yet one more example of how off-base the critics are. The publisher, Michigan State University, in accordance with academic policies for its Rhetoric and Public Affairs Series, submitted the book to an expert panel of reviewers including a professor of biochemistry at an Ivy-league school and professors in the philosophy of science and rhetoric of human inquiry fields. There is no doubt that this volume has been peer-reviewed.

The book presents a multi-faceted scientific case for the theory of intelligent design and also examines the legal and pedagogical arguments for teaching students about the scientific controversies that surround the issue of biological origins.

Editor John Angus Campbell lays out the design of the book in the introduction:

"Darwinism, Design, and Public Education will seek to advance public discussion of science education by presenting arguments for and against a more inclusive, controversy-based biology curriculum. In order to do this, the book will also present arguments for and against both contemporary Darwinism and the theory of ID itself. Darwinism, Design, and Public Education is divided into four parts and appendixes. The first part of the volume presents three essays arguing for a more inclusive approach to science education-indeed, one that would encourage science educators to teach students about scientific challenges to Darwinian theory and about the challenge posed to Darwinism by advocates of the theory of intelligent design. The second part includes several essays that provide scientific critiques of contemporary evolutionary theories or textbook presentations of these theories. The third part presents essays that develop the scientific case for intelligent design. The fourth part offers responses, chiefly critical, to the essays in the first three parts of the volume. The appendixes present both supporting documents about the controversy over the teaching of evolution in the public schools (including the transcript of a recent hearing of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and an essay by Donald Kennedy) and a technical supplement to the case by Stephen C. Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson, and Paul Chien on the Cambrian explosion."

Those familiar with the ID movement will recognize most of the contributors to this volume, and well as some of the articles which appear in book form for the first time. Integrated under the watchful eyes of editors John Angus Campbell and Stephen C. Meyer, this book is an important contribution to the "Teach the Controversy" viewpoint for how to handle the origins controversy in our public schools.

John Angus Campbell is Professor and Director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at the University of Memphis and is a past President of the American Association for the Rhetoric of Science and Technology. Dr. Campbell's research has focused on the rhetoric of science. He has published numerous technical articles analyzing the rhetorical strategy of Darwin's The Origin of Species and is widely regarded as the world's foremost expert on the subject. The Rhetoric of Charles Darwin is a video interview with Dr. Campbell available from ARN.

Praise for Darwinism, Design, & Public Education
"Darwinism, Design, and Public Education should be read by everyone seeking a fair and comprehensive debate about the teaching of evolution in American public schools… this book's careful yet passionate dialogue actually provides the tools needed by a democratic public to make sense of this difficult controversy."

-James Arnt Aune, Texas A&M University, author of Rhetoric and Marxism and Selling the Free Market

Table of Contents
Why Are We Still Debating Darwinism? Why Not Teach the Controversy?
John Angus Campbell

PART I-Should Darwinism Be Presented Critically and Comparatively in the Public Schools? Philosophical, Educational, and Legal Issues

Intelligent Design, Darwinism, and the Philosophy of Public Education, John Angus Campbell

Intelligent Design Theory, Religion, and the Science Curriculum, Warren A. Nord

Teaching the Controversy: Is It Science, Religion, or Speech? David DeWolf, Stephen C. Meyer, and Mark E. DeForrest

PART II-Scientific Critique of Biology Textbooks and Contemporary Evolutionary Theory

The Meanings of Evolution, Stephen C. Meyer and Michael Newton Keas

The Deniable Darwin, David Berlinski

Haeckel's Embryos and Evolution: Setting the Record Straight, Jonathan Wells

Second Thoughts about Peppered Moths, Jonathan Wells

Where Do We Come From? A Humbling Look at the Biology of Life's Origin, Massimo Pigliucci

Origin of Life and Evolution in Biology Textbooks: A Critique, Gordon C. Mills, Malcolm Lancaster, and Walter L. Bradley

PART III-The Theory of Intelligent Design: A Scientific Alternative to Neo-Darwinian and/or Chemical Evolutionary Theories

DNA and the Origin of Life: Information, Specification, and Explanation, Stephen C. Meyer

Design in the Details: The Origin of Biomolecular Machines, Michael J. Behe

Homology in Biology: Problem for Naturalistic Science and Prospect for Intelligent Design, Paul Nelson and Jonathan Wells

The Cambrian Explosion: Biology's Big Bang, Stephen C. Meyer, Marcus Ross, Paul Nelson, and Paul Chien

Reinstating Design within Science, William A. Dembski

PART IV-Critical Responses

The Rhetoric of Intelligent Design: Alternatives for Science and Religion, Celeste Michelle Condit

Intelligent Design and Irreducible Complexity: A Rejoinder, David Depew

Biochemical Complexity: Emergence or Design? Bruce H. Weber

Design Yes, Intelligent No: A Critique of Intelligent Design Theory and Neo-Creationism, Massimo Pigliucci

On Behalf of the Fool, Michael Ruse

Rhetorical Arguments and Scientific Arguments: Do My Children Have to Listen to More Arguments against Evolution? Eugene Garver

Design? Yes! But Is It Intelligent? William Provine

Creation and Evolution: A Modest Proposal, Alvin Plantinga

Thinking Pedagogically about Design, John Lyne

An Intelligent Person's Guide to Intelligent Design Theory, Steve Fuller

Creationism versus Darwinism: A Third Alternative, Brig Klyce and Chandra Wickramasinghe

The Rhetorical Problem of Intelligent Design, Phillip E. Johnson

A. U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Hearing: On Curriculum Controversies in Biology
B. Helping Schools to Teach Evolution, Donald Kennedy
C. Stratigraphic First Appearance of Phyla-Body Plans
D. Stratigraphic First Appearance of Phyla-Subphyla Body Plans
E. Probability of Other Body Plans Originating in the Cambrian Explosion

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